Domestic workers

“DC Council Considers Bill of Rights for Domestic Workers” by Francisca Alvarez

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Francisca writes:

“Earlier this year, Board Member Elissa Silverman announced the Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act 2022 and this month the Labor and Workforce Development Board held a public hearing on the legislation. I want to share why it is so important for the council to adopt this for domestic workers.

In a city like Washington, DC, a lot of people rely on nannies like me. Almost from the time I moved here, I got up every morning and went to work to help families take care of their children. The work I do is essential. Without it, working mothers and fathers could not do their own work.

Throughout the pandemic, thousands of nannies in this city have done the same job as me. I was extremely lucky to have employers who continued to pay me for six months during the lockdown when I couldn’t go to work. However, some never stopped working or lost their jobs and all their income. The kinds of protections that other people usually have in their jobs, we don’t and it’s time to change that.

When I interviewed for my first job as a nanny, the family said the job would be to look after their children and do “light cleaning”. As this was my first time doing this job, we did not have a written contract but a verbal agreement outlining these tasks. After working for a few months, the family began to add more and more responsibilities, such as heavier cleaning and housework, which I had not accepted when I took the job.

The workload has become overwhelming. I was constantly rushing to complete tasks on time. Without a written contract, there was nothing I could show that demonstrated that they were asking me to perform tasks outside of the scope of responsibilities we had defined when I was hired. It was tiring.

I left this job after four months. I started working for another family in the area and asked them to sign a written agreement to avoid repeating what I had experienced in my previous job. But, they refused. We had verbally discussed my hourly wage and the hours I needed to work, which would allow me to get out in time to pick up my own daughter from daycare. Over time, the family started showing up later and later in the evening than we had agreed. Sometimes they were almost two hours late. I would be late to pick up my daughter. Her daycare billed me for every minute I was late. During this time, the family I worked for was unwilling to compensate me for the overtime hours I worked.

I knew something had to change. In my next job and in all my jobs after that, I had a written contract and was fortunate to work for employers who treated me with respect and dignity. But nannies, cleaners and home helpers like me shouldn’t have to rely on luck for safe and respectful workplaces. No matter who our employer is, we all deserve written contracts, protections against abuse and discrimination, and safe workplaces.

That’s why I decided to advocate for other nannies and domestic workers who are facing the same challenges as me. Many nannies working in DC today still do not have written contracts, and their employment rights depend on the goodwill of their employers.

Many domestic workers lack even the simplest of workplace protections against abuse, harassment and discrimination.

The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is currently pending before the City Council. It must become law.

Extending workplace protections to nannies, housekeepers and home care workers means a significant portion of our workforce is finally getting the tools and resources they need to fight back if she is a victim of abuse or discrimination at work. This means that domestic workers will no longer have to fight for a written contract with their employer to ensure that they are not exploited. It will mean that more women of color will have their hard work honored and rewarded with common sense protections.

The nannies, housekeepers, and home care workers who keep DC families safe and homes clean should be able to support themselves and their families. The work we do will always be difficult, but it is wonderful and fulfilling work. As a nanny, I was so honored to take care of my employers’ most precious treasures – their children – to teach them and watch them grow. And I had the privilege of being treated with dignity and respect by my employers. The City Council must adopt Councilwoman Silverman’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights so that domestic workers in the District of Columbia no longer have to rely on luck for our basic workplace protections.